Cover image copyright 2013 Melissa Stevens.
There are many talented cover designers out there. How do you find a good one at an affordable price?
The first step is to find a variety of cover designers to choose from. One way is to simply use a search engine. Another is to browse for book covers you like; some of the professionally designed indie covers and small publisher covers will feature more affordable designers. Interact with the indie author community here at WordPress and over the course of a few months, you’ll discover a variety of cover designers.
Charles Yallowitz offered a creative suggestion: Contact a local art department. You may find an art student with graphic design experience looking for such an opportunity.
Another option is cover design help through CreateSpace or crowdSPRING, for example. Personal interaction with a single artist provides many benefits, but finding a variety of talent in one place has its own advantage.
Finding several designers is easy. The challenge is picking the right one for your book and your budget.
You can find premade covers for $10 and up, but chances are that this approach will result in a cover that doesn’t quite fit your book – and ‘not quite’ can make a significant difference. It doesn’t hurt to browse them, though; maybe you’ll get lucky. Or, if it just needs a small change to fit your cover, perhaps the designer will be willing to revise it for a small fee; it doesn’t hurt to ask.
It’s possible to find custom cover design for under $100, but many professionally designed covers run from $300 to $1500 (and up). Although I’ve made most of my covers myself, this year I have invested in a few covers at around the $300 price point.
I hired Melissa Stevens to design a few covers, and was very pleased both with the process and the results.
Cover image copyright 2013 Melissa Stevens.
Here are some ideas to help you narrow your search:
- Visit the cover designer’s website. How professional is it?
- Explore the artist’s portfolio. Do any of the images or techniques seem to be a good fit for your cover?
- Check the designer’s previous covers out. Do any of these grab your attention? Do they follow the ‘rules’ of cover design (a good cover may break a rule, but as the author, you need some means of judging)?
- Find some of these covers on Amazon. If the book is new, look at the sales rank; if the book isn’t new, the reviews may be more revealing of its prior sales rank (since this can change significantly over time). How much do you feel that the cover may have stimulated sales, if at all?
- Note that books published by top publishers usually only mention the cover designer in small print on the back cover and on the copyright page, and not on the front cover.
- What do your friends, family, and acquaintances think about the artist’s portfolio and previous covers?
When you’re ready to contact a potential cover designer, you should be prepared to exchange a few emails. This interaction will help you gauge the artist’s character, expertise, interest in your book, patience, etc. Here are some points to consider (first check the artist’s website, which may answer some of these questions for you):
- Inquire about the artist’s background and experience (unless this information is posted on the website).
- What techniques does the artist use? Graphic design usually looks much more professional on a cover; even though colored pencils, chalk, or paint can look good hanging on a wall, it usually makes a cover look amateurish.
- Ask if the artist will use any clipart or stock images, and, if so, ask about copyright issues. You’d hate to invest money in cover design and then get sued for copyright infringement over any of the images used.
- What use of the cover design will you be granted? This should be stated on the contract. If you have multiple editions (paperback, eBook), you want to clarify this. You probably want to post your cover on your website, may want to solicit feedback about it on your blog, etc. Generally, posting your cover on your websites should be good advertising for the designer, but you want to get permission first.
- Will the artist display the cover on the artist’s website? This may not generate sales for you, but helps your branding slightly. When the artist features your cover on his/her website, it demonstrates the artist is proud of the cover.
- You want to know to what extent you will be involved in the process. You may have a vision; even if not, you may still want to suggest revisions throughout the design. Realize that it takes a lot of work to design a cover, and much more work to make multiple revisions. Thus, many artists place a limit on the number of changes you can make for the price paid, and charge extra for additional revisions. You want to have this clarified up front.
- Before you sign the contract, you’d like to have some idea of what you’re going to get. Perhaps the designer can describe his/her vision for your cover. Even better, request a partial mock-up showing something.
- How long will the design take? The wise thing is for you to provide ample time for the cover to be made. I don’t believe in rushing art. Personally, I would prefer for the artist to put the idea on hold until the perfect idea comes.
- How will the payments be arranged? It may be a good compromise for the author to pay a deposit up front and the rest when the cover is delivered; half and half is common. This way, the artist is compensated for his/her time, work, and effort even if the author changes his/her mind (which happens). You want the contract to include a provision for opting out; probably, the deposit (which may be half) will be nonrefundable, but if you’re dissatisfied with the result, you can walk away and not pay the remainder.
- Note that some cover designers offer contracts and expect a hefty deposit, but not all designers do. This may depend in part on the process. If the designer does much of the work by hand, he/she is more likely to present a contract and expect a hefty deposit; but if the designer works mostly with stock images, he/she may be less formal.
- You can try to negotiate a little. An artist might take a chance that once you fall in love with one cover, you might use the same artist for many covers. Instead of price, you might ask for something else, like a matching website banner. What I recommend is asking if you can receive a few of the images from the cover to help decorate the inside of your book, or maybe getting a few simple designs to help with the interior décor; such touches can help make the interior of your book (especially, the Look Inside) make a good impression, too. However, some illustrators won’t negotiate on price; but it may not hurt to try.
- Of course, if you have any legal questions about the contract, you should consult with an attorney.
Get feedback from family, friends, acquaintances, and especially members of your target audience at various stages of the cover design. This will help you receive valuable feedback so that you can suggest possible revisions while at the same time helping to create a little buzz for your upcoming book.
Communication is very important. The artist is trying to carry out your vision, but can’t see inside your head. You must communicate your ideas clearly with the artist. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. Be honest. If there is something you don’t like, say so. Don’t fear hurting the artist’s feelings. (Well, have some tact. Don’t say, “That stinks.” Try something like, “I was hoping that image could look a little more…,” or, “I’m not a big fan of that…” Also, take the time to make encouraging and supportive remarks about the elements that you do like.) Communication and honesty are the keys to helping the artist pull of your vision.
There is one more thing to keep in mind: While it’s your cover, the artist wants to be happy with the cover design, too. If the author insists on some cover design element that the artist feels makes the cover look unprofessional, the artist may not want to showcase the cover on his/her website and may not want to have his/her name mentioned as the cover designer.
Finally, behave professionally in your interactions with potential cover designers. Your author image is a very important part of your branding.
From a marketing perspective, the two most important features of your cover are:
- The cover makes it clear which genre the book belongs to. If your cover design fails to meet this goal, then most of the people who click on your book probably won’t be buying it.
- The cover grabs the attention of your target audience. Not just making the genre clear, but attracting the target audience’s attention.
It’s also desirable for the title font to be clear in the cover. You can find various ‘rules’ of cover design and mistakes to avoid (for example, in the link below), and see if the ‘final’ cover meets this criteria (if not, at least have a good reason for not doing so).
For you, the author, there is one very important feature to keep in mind:
- Ensure that the product is better than what you could have done yourself (unless you happen to have all the skills, but just didn’t want to invest the time).
Let me credit Melissa Stevens for reading my draft of this blog post and offering a few suggestions. She mentioned the importance of honesty from the author, the idea that communication between the author and artist is the key to successful cover design, and the point about cover designers who work primarily with stock images. The cover figures in this post were used by permission of Melissa Stevens.
Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers
Great pieces of information here – thanks. I have utilized members of my writing group who are also artists for my covers as well as using computer programs. I’;ll keep this link for future reference.
It’s always convenient when you happen to know some artists. 🙂
Thank you so much for this well timed blog post. I have a few concerns about stock photos, having come across two different books, published four months apart, with the exact same cover image. It’s good to know about which types of questions to ask.
That’s one issue with stock photos. Many artists will add their own touches to stock photos, combine images together, etc. such that their covers will look unique compared to other covers that happen to use the same stock photos. But it’s also a challenge to do this professionally.
Thanks for the info. Goodreads almost always has a thread going where cover artists have links to their websites.
That’s a good suggestion. Thank you. 🙂
I used the job offer section of the http://www.deviantart.com forum, to find an excellent illustrator, who also had knowledge of the book cover process (trim size, spine width, etc). And she was amazing value. It’s definitely worth asking the question on a site like that. 🙂
That’s a good idea. I’m glad it worked out for you. 🙂
This is a well laid out and researched post! Good job!
I’m a cover artist and thought I’d leave my info here in case it’s useful for anyone looking for an artist! My portfolio can be found at: http://www.sydgill.com